Dear GRSF: How do artists respond to the current social climate in their work?

Dear GRSF: How do artists respond to the current social climate in their work?

“Dear GRSF” is a new series for our newsletters where staff and company members at Great River Shakespeare Festival answer your questions about the “whys” and “hows” of our company. To submit a question, click here.

Recently, a GRSF patron asked our leadership team, “How do you feel that your acting is responding to or influenced by the current social climate – justice, forgiveness, letting go of fear?

Answer by: Will Sturdivant, GRSF Acting Company Member

I received this question from the incredible Eileen Moeller on August 19th. I am finally starting to put words on my document to answer this question and it is September 16th. It is an interesting question, because it asks for a perspective about acting, using events of real time, felt in real life by me as Will Sturdivant, as opposed to a character or performative version of myself. It has taken a month’s time to continually engage with this prompt, as well as to decide how much of my inner sanctum I am willing to share with the outer world, the world that is currently both all-consuming and highly isolating at once. This time of pandemic proportions has many in self-relevation/self-care/self-protection mode. I believe survival is the human experience shared currently by all!

I shall open some windows, however the doors will remain shut, guided by my own survival instincts. 

Acting requires one to speak authentically, from their gut, regardless of what affectation is needed to inhabit the shoes of someone/something else. Artistry requires the exploration of one’s inner soul workings. These are certainly not mutually inclusive or exclusive, Acting and Artistry.

I am committed to the art of acting, which means, for me, opening doors inside the corridors of my heart that say “DO NOT ENTER”, and to do it with skill; but more so doing it with authenticity, and sharing that energy with others. 99% of the time this is done through other people’s words. This has become more and more clear over the past months of forced solitude and social outrage. 

All the ways I learned to behave, to engage, to hide and conceal, to love and laugh, have been laid bare in front of me. Almost like you bought a car that looked perfect and when it was unloaded in your driveway, it was package after package of all the parts, and they need to be assembled…but how? There is no guide, no roadmap or instructions. As a former professor of mine said, “Where you’re stuck in your life is where you’re stuck in your art,” and the same thing inversely. So what happens when both areas are stuck at the same time? Well, perhaps that’s what this past month of deliberation on how to answer this question originates. I have been depressed, enraged, full of sorrow and pain unfelt; I have hit moments of hopelessness and despair, and the only thing that has pulled me from these wastelands of inner turmoil are words: speaking them, writing them, hearing them. Words. Some my own, though mostly from others. 

It is from this place I write today. I have begun the process of rebuilding, re-assembling, rediscovering and imagining beyond where I am, and more importantly, processing WHO I am. Reflection…and THERAPY have helped me sort out unhappiness from unease, systemic inequality from naivete or inexperience, coding my language versus my fear of standing out, supporting others versus my shyness to lead. It has taught me to speak the truth more immediately, to engage with feelings when they arise rather than let them bottle and fester, to use language of inclusiveness when speaking to groups, to work towards the steady development of practicing and implementing these habits and realizations.  

So, in conclusion to fully bring it home (haha!), I believe the continual pursuit of self-awareness will undoubtedly inform the depth to which one can express the fullness of one’s authentic self. Also, I’m more interested in how this social climate has affected audiences! My work is all about doing that painful introspective work to emerge and deliver energy to audiences, how audiences receive (or dismiss) that energy is what keeps me intrigued and inspired to continue this pivotal work for our society and the world!